Alaska Digest

Posted: Friday, July 16, 2004

Alaska fire season heads for record books

ANCHORAGE - This year's wildfire season in Alaska is blazing toward the record books, less than 52,000 acres short of being the third-worst season since 1950, fire managers said Thursday.

Fanned by a long stretch of dry hot weather, fires throughout the state have burned 3,173,218 acres, said fire information spokesman Chris Rogers.

The third-worst fire season occurred in 1990 when 3,189,079 acres burned, he said.

The worst season on record occurred in 1957, when more than 5 million acres burned.

"That was a huge fire year, before infrared imaging was used for mapping fires," Rogers said. "Then, fire crews used local landmarks when they did flyovers."

The second-worst year was 1969, with about 4.2 million acres blackened.

This season, crews across Alaska have stayed busy battling seven fires 100,000 acres or larger, as well as dozens of smaller fires. The largest fires were among 75 blazes burning in the state Thursday.

The Boundary fire - about half the size of Rhode Island at 379,450 acres - remained a top priority as it continued to slowly spread to within 15 miles north of Fairbanks. Crews were focusing on structure protection in the southern areas, even though the blaze was more active in the north and east flanks, according to fire information spokesman Bert Plante.

"It's mostly backcountry there," he said. "That's a low priority part of the fire because it's in the middle of nowhere."

Ketchikan considers cruise dock expansion

KETCHIKAN - Ketchikan officials have drawn up plans to expand its dock space to meet its burgeoning downtown cruise ship business.

The city plans to present at least three, and possibly four, plans that are estimated to cost between $35 million and $64 million.

Two of the proposals call for an expansion south of the existing docks. The third would be to the north.

The city also is considering asking its consultant to design a fourth alternative.

Merchants north of the existing dock area are pushing for the expansion near their businesses. That option proposes building two docks next to each other situated almost parallel to Tongass Avenue. The other two proposals would be south of Thomas Basin. One option would be connected to the Thomas Basin breakwater and allow two cruise ships to tie up to one berth.

Permanent fund investments revamped

ANCHORAGE - Managers of the Alaska Permanent Fund plan to invest up to $500 million in property over the next two years and to give real estate firms outside the state the power to buy or sell without prior approval.

The fund's board of trustees retooled the fund's real estate investment policy this week. Only about 8 percent of the fund, or $2.2 billion, is now invested in real estate. The target is 10 percent.

About 56 percent of the $27.8 billion fund is invested in stocks, 35 percent in bonds, 8 percent in real estate and 1 percent in Alaska certificates of deposit.

The average real estate investment return for the past five years has been about 13 percent, Permanent Fund acting executive director Bob Bartholomew said.

The fund owns all or part of 40 commercial properties around the country, including apartments, warehouses, office buildings and shopping malls. The fund also invests in real estate investment trusts, which operate like mutual funds.

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